The First American Pandemic (Over 200 Years Ago)

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The devastating Covid pandemic was not the first major outbreak to hit America. Nor was the Spanish influenza scourge of 1918. That dubious distinction would be the yellow fever crisis of 1793: a pandemic that struck the interim capital city of Philadelphia. The state of medicine at the time was such that the medical community did not know the origins of the outbreak and there was no known cure. The ensuing terror necessitated the evacuation of the city and federal government, killed perhaps 10-20 percent of the city’s population, and, with eerie parallels to the debates surrounding Covid, prompted a public rift regarding the wearing of masks, social distancing, and personal freedoms–and even claims that the disease decimating the capital city was fake. This lecture takes a deep dive into the outbreak, the consequences of having no functioning federal government, and lessons from this first American crisis.


Curiosity Stream and One Day University


College of Arts and Sciences